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PRISCILLA OF BOSTON COLLECTION, 1940-1996
#557

4 cubic feet: 5 DB, 1 .5 DB, 5 flat, 2 F/O)

by: Cathy Keen,  December 2000

History

Priscilla Kidder actively participated in every aspect of the wedding industry for almost fifty years. She was a nationally known figure whom journalists often referred to as the "Dior" of bridal design. Priscilla Comins Kidder was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1918. After finishing high school she opened a small yarn shop in the community. After completing her education in retail design at the New England School of Design, she took a job at R.H. White's department store in Boston, Massachusetts. At R.H. White's she worked her way up from model to sales associate to assistant buyer in the bridal department.

The limited selection of bridal gowns available to women in the early 1940s moved Priscilla Kidder to leave R. H. White in 1945 to start her own bridal salon, which would offer a broader selection of bridal lines to a variety of brides. With the help of her husband, who became the financial consultant, she opened "The Bride's Shop" at 129 Newbury Street. It grossed $10,000 in its first week of business.

Priscilla of Boston company grew at a rapid pace, and quickly established a national reputation. The company prided itself on innovation, and its designers blended ongoing fashion trends with classic looks to create various dress styles. One difference which distinguished Priscilla of Boston gowns from those of other bridal manufacturers in the 1940s was the decoration on the gowns. Wedding gowns at that time tended to be simple without a substantial amount of ornamentation. Priscilla was the first designer to use large amounts of lace to decorate her gowns.

Over the years Priscilla of Boston has had numerous bridal lines, in addition to the custom work that the company continued to do. In addition to the "Priscilla" line, the company started the "Betsy" line, named for Priscilla Kidder's daughter, which was created in 1960 for the woman who wanted an inexpensive dress. The "Teeny" line, later renamed the "Petite" line, was a more sophisticated title, created for the small woman. The most recent line created, in 1980, was the "Contemporary Romantic" line, a less formal gown for the refined woman. Priscilla of Boston also designed dresses for bridesmaids, mothers of brides, and debutantes.

Priscilla of Boston grew quite large, with stores and factories in Massachusetts and New York. Despite the growth of the business, which at one point manufactured more than two thousand dresses a month, the company always maintained a small, personal atmosphere. The company did not unionize, but instead functioned on a profit-sharing basis. Mrs. Kidder continuously attempted to influence the bridal industry in the United States. She stressed running a business that focused on New England morality and maintaining its family atmosphere. Priscilla Kidder also believed that a bridal showroom should hire a consultant who was near the age of the brides-to-be and was a person whom the customers could relate to.

Priscilla Kidder, along with her sister Natalie, designed the bridal gowns for the company when it first opened in 19434. She soon turned the duty over to a small team of designers. Priscilla Kidder's favorite designer was John Burbidge. His preference for elaborate gowns matched Priscilla Kidder's taste. Although she stopped designing, she stayed involved in the creative process, overseeing each sketch. Priscilla also was directly involved with the stores that marketed her gowns. She traveled throughout the United States to hold fashion shows or visit showrooms. On these trips she advised brides on how to make their weddings the most special day of their lives. She kept a high profile in the media and she created a distinctive image for herself that helped sell her products.

Among Priscilla Kidder's many accomplishments are: being chosen to design Grace Kelly's bridesmaids' gowns for her wedding to Prince Rainier in 1956; having one of her gowns selected by Luci Baines Johnson for her 1966 wedding; and designing Julie Nixon's bridal gown in 1968 and Tricia Nixon's in 1971. Priscilla Kidder credits herself with three innovations within the bridal industry. She was the first to create a petite line for the smaller woman. She also introduced gowns with pale pink coloring beneath the white fabric for a trompe l'oeil effect, and introduced a style with silk shantung. In 1993 Priscilla Kidder sold her family business to Priscilla Kaneb.

Scope and Content

These records are arranged in ten series: Series 1: LETTERS, 1979-1982; Series 2: ITEMS RELATED TO PRISCILLA KIDDER, 1940-1976; Series 3: SKETCHES, 1959-1990s; Series 4: STYLE BOOKS, 1976-1984; Series 5: PUBLICITY PHOTOGRAPHS, 1952-1990s; Series 6: TEAR SHEETS, 1950-1990s; Series 7: ARTICLES AND CLIPPINGS, 1956-1990; Series 8: SCRAPBOOKS, 1956-1984; Series 9: ASSORTED BUSINESS DOCUMENTS, 1971-1985; and Series 10: MISCELLANEOUS. The primary material in this collection consists of a few letters, mostly relating to fashion shows; photographic portraits of Priscilla Kidder, possibly from her days as a bridal gown model; sketches; and three different types of style books, one for store buyers containing information on ordering and on the various product lines, one for sales associates containing information helpful in selling the gowns and measuring and fitting the client, and one for factory "floor girls" containing information about the construction of the gowns. Some of the style books were used by the company as "chicken books", i.e., annotated with scratch marks to indicate quantities of orders in each style, which designs were taken off line, etc. They also contain information on type of fabric and ornamentation used, yardage, measurements, available sizes, color, where advertised, and a brief description of each gown. These are arranged by line (i.e., Priscilla, Teeny, Contemporary Romantic) and there under by design number. Additionally, the collection contains some assorted internal business documents, but these are merely samplings of different kinds of company records and do not form a cohesive record of the business. The majority of the collection consists of secondary material from the 1950s to the 1990s, including publicity photographs, tear sheets from magazine advertising, newspaper clippings, and scrapbooks containing additional tear sheets and clippings and articles.

This collection is extraordinarily useful in documenting the development of wedding fashion during the last half of the 20th century. It also illustrates how a small, family-owned, woman-run business grew into a large, nationally known operation.

Related collection: #562, John and Cile Burbidge Collection

Provenance

This collection was donated by Priscilla Kidder in 1996, through Claudia Kidwell of the Museum's Division of Costume.

Container List

Box   Folder

Series 1: LETTERS, 1979-1982 

1 1 Letters, 1979 - 1982. Most relate to fashion shows Priscilla Kidder gave. (More letters are contained in the scrapbook in box 13.)

Series 2: ITEMS RELATING TO PRISCILLA KIDDER, 1940s-1970s

2 Photographs of Priscilla Kidder at work, 1970s.
Five portraits of Priscilla Kidder, 1940s.

Three photographs of Priscilla Kidder modeling wedding gown, ca. 1940. (Stored in oversize box 4.)

3 A series of caricatures of Priscilla Kidder, ca. 1976, drawn by an employee.
4 1 Photographic portraits of Priscilla Kidder, ca. 1940s-1950s.

Series 3: SKETCHES, 1959-1990s

11 1 Oversize sketches: four sketches for newspaper rotogravure advertising, 1959.
2 Reproductions of two design sketches, early 1960s.
1 4 Sketches, fall and winter, 1961. Series 700.
5 Sketches, fall and winter, 1961. Series 85-92.
6 Example of sketch accompanied by information on construction cost (materials and labor), n.d.
7 Templates used for embroidering attendants' names into their gowns, for Luci Baines Johnson's wedding, 1966 and Julie Nixon's wedding, 1968.
11 3 Design sketches accompanied by design notes (fabric, dimensions, etc.), undated, ca. 1990s.
4 Photocopies of design sketches, accompanied by design notes (fabric, dimensions, etc.), undated, ca. 1990s.

Series 4: STYLE BOOKS, 1976-1984

1 8 Illustrated seasonal style book for "floor girls" in the factory used by Priscilla of Boston Company as a "chicken book". Fall, 1976.
9 Two illustrated seasonal style book for store buyers, used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Fall, 1976 and Spring, 1977.
10 Illustrated seasonal style book for "floor girls" in the factory, used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Spring, 1977.
11 Illustrated seasonal style book for "floor girls" in factory, used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Summer, 1977.
12 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Spring, 1979.
13 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Fall, 1978 - Winter, 1979.
14 Illustrated seasonal style book for "floor girls" in the factory, used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Fall 1978-1979.
2 1 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Fall, 1979.
2 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Spring/Summer, 1980.
3 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Summer, 1980.
4 Seasonal style book for store buyers, used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book", Fall/Winter 1980-1981.
5 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Fall/Winter, 1980.
6 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Spring/Summer, 1981.
7 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Spring/Summer, 1981.
8 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Fall/Winter, 1981-1982. Seasonal style for store buyer. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". Fall/Winter, 1981-1982.
9 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates. Spring/Summer, 1982.
3 1 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book". 1982-1983. Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book", 1983.
2 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates, 1983.
3 Illustrated seasonal style book for sales associates, 1983.
4 Seasonal style book for store buyers. Used by Priscilla of Boston as a "chicken book", 1983-1984.
5 Measurement guide for "Teeny" line, n.d.
6 Three detached pages from illustrated seasonal style books, undated.

Series 5: PUBLICITY PHOTOGRAPHS, 1952-1990s

11 5 Oversize publicity photographs, marked up for magazine layouts, 1950s.
3 7 Publicity photographs, 1951-1952, and undated, 1950s.
4 1 Portraits of Priscilla Kidder. (From Series 2.)
2 Publicity photographs, 1953.
3 Publicity photographs, 1954.
4 Publicity photographs, 1955.
5 Publicity photographs, 1956.
6 Publicity photographs, 1957.
7 Publicity photographs, 1959.
8 Publicity photographs, 1960 and undated 1960s.
11 6 Oversize publicity photographs, 1960s.
4 9 Publicity photographs, 1961.
5 1 Publicity photographs, 1962.
2 Publicity photographs, 1963.
3 Publicity photographs, 1964.
4 Publicity photographs, 1965.
5 Publicity photographs, 1966.
6 Publicity photographs, 1967.
7 Publicity photographs, 1968.
8 Publicity photographs, 1968-1969.
11 7 Oversize publicity photographs, marked up for magazine layout, 1970s.
5 9 Publicity photographs, 1972.
10 Publicity photographs, 1973.
11 Publicity photographs, 1974.
12 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1974.
13 Publicity photographs, Fall/Winter, 1974.
14 Publicity photographs, Portfolio I - II, Fall/Winter, 1974.
15 Publicity photographs, 1975.
16 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1975.
17 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, Portfolio II, 1975.
18 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1975.
19 Publicity photographs, proofs, 1975.
20 Publicity photographs, 1976.
6 1 Publicity photographs, 1976. Includes photographs of historic costumes designed by John Burbidge, commemorating Priscilla of Boston's 25th anniversary.
2 Publicity photographs, Fall, 1976.
3 Publicity photographs, Spring, 1977.
4 Publicity photographs, 1977.
5 Publicity photographs, 1978.
6 Publicity photographs, 1979.
7 Publicity photographs, undated, from early 1970s.
8 Publicity photographs, 1980.
9 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1981.
10 Publicity photographs, 1981.
11 Publicity photographs, Fall/Winter, 1982.
12 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1983.
13 Publicity photographs, Fall, 1983.
14 Publicity photographs, Spring/Summer, 1984.
15 Publicity photographs, February/March, 1985.
16 Publicity photographs, April/May, 1985.
17 Publicity photographs, 1985.
18 Publicity photograph, 1986.
19 Publicity photographs, 1987.
11 8 Oversize publicity photographs, accompanied by negatives and magazine layout, 1989.
6 20 Publicity photographs, undated, 1980s.
21 Publicity photographs, undated, 1980s.
22 Publicity photographs, undated, 1980s, in 2 1/4" x 2 1/4" transparencies.
23 Publicity proofs, undated, from the 1980s.
11 9 Oversize publicity photographs, matted and framed, undated, from the 1980s - 1990s.
12 1 One publicity photograph, matted and framed, undated, ca. 1980s-1990s.
6 24 Proofs of publicity photographs, 1990.
25 Proofs of publicity photographs, 1990s.
7 1 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1983/1984.
2 Proofs for publicity photographs, 1989/1990.
3 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1983/1984.
4 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1984.
5 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1984.
6 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1985.
7 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1985.
8 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1985.
9 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1985.
10 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1986.
11 Publicity photograph, 11" x 14", mounted and laminated, 1987.
12 "Counter card", i.e., easel-type display photos for in-store advertising, 1985-1990, and n.d.

Series 6: TEAR SHEETS, 1950-1994

8 1 Tear sheets, 1950 - 1951.
2 Tear sheets, 1953.
3 Tear sheets, 1954.
4 Tear sheets, 1955.
5 Tear sheets, 1956.
6 Tear sheets, 1957.
7 Tear sheets, 1958.
8 Tear sheets, 1960 - 1961, and undated, 1960s.
9 Tear sheets, 1962 - 1964.
10 Tear sheets, 1965 - 1967.
11 Tear sheets, 1968.
12 Tear sheets, 1969.
13 Tear sheets, 1970.
14 Tear sheets, 1971.
15 Tear sheets, 1973 - 1974.
16 Tear sheets, undated, 1970s.
17 Tear sheets, 1972 - 1977.
18 Tear sheets, 1983 - 1984.
9 1 Tear sheets, 1975.
2 Tear sheets, 1976.
3 Tear sheets, 1977.
4 Tear sheets, 1978.
5 Tear sheets, 1979.
6 Tear sheets, 1982, and undated 1980s.
7 Tear sheets, 1983.
8 Tear sheets, 1984.
9 Tear sheets, December, 1984 - 1985.
10 Tear sheets, 1986.
11 Tear sheets, 1987.
12 Tear sheets, 1988.
13 Tear sheets, 1994, and undated, 1990s.
12 2 Oversize tear sheets, 1954, 1960 and 1987.
9 14 Scrapbook of tear sheets, 1976.

Series 7: ARTICLES AND CLIPPINGS, 1956-1990

10 1 Newspaper clippings, 1956.
2 Newspaper and magazine clippings, 1964 - 1965.
3 Newspaper clippings, 1966.
4 Newspaper clippings, 1967.
5 Newspaper clippings, 1968.
6 Newspaper clippings, 1969.
7 Newspaper clippings, 1970.
8 Newspaper clippings, 1971, includes articles on Tricia Nixon's wedding.
9 Newspaper clippings, 1972.
10 Newspaper clippings, 1973.
11 Newspaper clippings, 1975.
12 Newspaper clippings, 1977.
13 Newspaper clippings, 1978.
14 Newspaper clippings, 1979.
15 Newspaper clippings, 1980.
16 Newspaper clippings, 1981.
17 Newspaper clippings, 1982.
18 Newspaper clippings, 1983.
19 Newspaper clippings, 1984-1985.
20 Newspaper clippings, 1986.
21 Newspaper clippings, 1990.

Series 8: SCRAPBOOKS, 1956-1984

12 3 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, containing tear sheets from magazines, 1960-1961.
4 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, containing tear sheets from magazines, 1962-1963.
5 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, containing tear sheets from magazines, 1964-1965.
6 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, containing tear sheets from magazines, 1966. Includes clippings about Luci Johnson's wedding.
7 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, containing tear sheets from magazines, 1967-1968.
8 Scrapbook of tear sheets of "Miss Betsy" designs, 1966-1968.
13 2 Pages from disassembled scrapbook, 1956-1980. Contains clippings about Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco, 1956, as well as other advertisements, articles and clippings, and miscellaneous items such as letters and programs, 1957-1980.
3 Contents of disassembled scrapbook of clippings and articles about the wedding of Luci Johnson and Patrick Nugent, 1966.
4 Contents of disassembled scrapbook, 1980-1984. Contains advertising of Priscilla designs.

Series 9: ASSORTED BUSINESS DOCUMENTS, 1971-1985

10 22 Documents relating to fabric orders, undated, including fabric swatches.
23 Advertising for retail promotion of Priscilla designs, 1977-1985.
24 List of gowns advertised in magazines, including date, magazine, page and design number, 1982-1984.
25 Statistics on top sellers, 1985.
26 Miscellaneous memoranda, brochures, notes, schedules, etc. Most relate to Tricia Nixon's wedding, 1971.

Series 10: MISCELLANEOUS

27 Visitor packet for Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Includes a brochure on a June, 1996 event at which Priscilla Kidder participated in a panel discussion entitled "Dressing the First Lady: Dialogue with the Designers".
 

Cathy Keen, December 2000


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